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A Brief History Of Kites. Part 2

It is interesting to read Cayley's own words about his experiments with kites. In 1804 he wrote: "A common paper kite containing 154 square inches was fastened to a rod of wood at the hinder end, and supported from the front part from the same rod by a peg, so as to make an angle of 6°. With it this rod proceeded on behind the kite and supported a tail, made of two planes crossing each other at right angles, containing 20 inches each. This tail could be set to any angle with the stick. The centre of gravity was varied by sticking a weight with a sharp point into the stick. If a velocity of 15 feet per second was given to it in an horizontal direction, it would skim for 20 or 30 yards supporting its own weight, and if pointed downward in an angle of about 18°, it would proceed uniformly in a right line for ever with a velocity of 15 feet per second. It was very pretty to see it sail down a steep hill, and it gave the idea that a larger instrument would be a better and a safer conveyance down the Alps than even the sure footed mule. The least inclination of the tail towards the right or left made it shape its course like a ship by the rudder." (An illustration of this kite-glider will be seen in Plate VII.)
a glider kite

A glider kite

The above words, it has been said, are a description of the world's first true aeroplane. The machine had a pegtop kite for the wing, which was attached to a pole at an angle of 6 degrees from the horizontal. The kite-like tail had two pieces, set at right angles to each other. In later machines which he built and flew, the kite-cum-glider look was preserved. Some were flown by means of a towing rope; free flights were made by others, in which passengers were carried. The story goes that somewhat reluctantly, Sir George's coachman made a flight in one of the machines. He was dragged across a valley and came down with a crash. Picking himself up out of the wreckage, he stumbled to his master and said he was giving up his job, because he had been hired to drive and not to fly. However, it is through men like Cayley, and it may be added, his coachman, that progress is made.

Another air-minded gentleman, George Pocock, deserves a place in the history of the kite. In 1825, one of his kites made an ascent, carrying up his daughter Martha. She was one of the first women to fly. One wonders how she felt during this short pioneering flight. She must have had great confidence in her father and his man-carrying kite. In 1827 he published a work entitled The Aeropleustic Art or Navigation in the Air by the Use of Kites or Buoyant Sails. In the same year he harnessed two very large kites to a carriage. He tested this kite-carriage on the public highway and travelled some distance between Bristol and Marlborough. It is recorded that he easily overtook the London mail coach en route. The sight of a carriage bowling along without horses must have caused some alarm, wonder and amusement among the onlookers. And no doubt the thrifty-minded hailed it as a very cheap means of transport. In 1859 E. J. Cordner, an Irish Catholic priest, invented a man-lifting kite apparatus for ship-to-shore rescue work. A number of kites were used to lift a single-passenger car from the ship and to convey it to the shore. Although the system was tested it was not used in actual rescue work. Such work as this was hindered because of the old superstition that anyone who rescued another from the sea, would himself be drowned within the year.

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